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An example of a guardianship programme – guardianship in Sicily (Part 1)

Video showing a guardianship programme in Sicily
We organised a public competition. The guardians apply as volunteers. We collected their applications and we made a selection, because guardians have a lot of responsibility. It was important to have the guardians understand that they had an institutional responsibility.
Then we organised a training course. The training course was very interesting because besides covering the legal aspects, we focussed our attention on the creation of a relationship. When the project was launched, the judge started to appoint the guardians. When a new guardian was appointed, they were assisted by the child protection authority, and by myself. The guardians have to stand in front of the Commissione with the child. They represent legally the child’s project. These are crucial aspects. - I saw on TV all those people arriving from the sea to the Sicilian ports. The news talked about an emergency involving unaccompanied children on our island.
Back then I was already working with Italian minors, so I started telling myself that maybe I could work with unaccompanied and separated children coming here. So I took part in a training course for volunteers and I started to grasp the importance of migration which became something really close to my heart. The first boy I was given guardianship of was Raul. He’s from Bangladesh and had just turned 17. It was a magical encounter, we immediately understood each other, and gradually we also grew fond of each other. What makes me proud is knowing that he knows he can count on me. He helped me discover again all those values
that Italian boys and girls seem to have forgotten. He wanted to go to school, to make something of himself. He wanted to make it. And today, to see that he has a job and is part of society, that he finished his studies… that’s what makes me very proud and very happy. I met Goacchina, Raul’s guardian, precisely when I interviewed him for the first time. We decided to make an investment on Raul’s future, and on his occupational prospects to give him the chance to become something more than a cleaner. This is because he was eager to learn, he was motivated, he had intuition when it came to do what the chef asked him to do, and, talent, to be honest.
He has a talent for cooking, preparing food. At first it was difficult. But now it’s easy. Back then, I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t know Italian cuisine. I didn’t know how to cook Italian food. But since I’m in Italy I have learned a lot of things. I know how to cook the Italian dishes now. I have learned the language. Back then I didn’t understand a word of Italian. That was a problem. Now I can understand Italian. I have learned Italian. I went to school, I have learned many things. I thought about my future, I want to be a chef, I am a sous chef right now. But later, I want to cook by myself.
I don’t want to be a sous chef. Right now I am a sous chef because I don’t have a lot of experience. When I have the experience, I want my own restaurant. An Italian one. Not now, because I have just arrived. But in the future, I would like to open my own Italian restaurant. I would love that.

In this video we have the opportunity to hear about the guardianship programme for unaccompanied and separated children in Sicily – an island which is a region of Italy. A significant percentage of all refugees and migrant children who arrive in Italy are unaccompanied or separated. A report issued by UNHCR in June 2017, showed how 94% – 3,941 – of children arriving in Italy between January and April of that year were unaccompanied or separated.

Sicily continues to receive the highest percentage of unaccompanied and separated children in the country. This is due to its geographical location as a place of first arrival when boats cross from Africa.

In the video we will first hear from Pasquale d’Andrea, who is the Head of the Child Protection Authority of the city of Palermo. Pasquale has played a pivotal role in the development of the guardianship system in Palermo. His position is a voluntary one, and the work of his team is supported by UNICEF. In the video Pasquale outlines the role of guardians who are appointed by the Juvenile Court.

We will also hear from Raul who arrived as an unaccompanied child from Bangladesh. Gioacchina Ferrara is Raul’s guardian and tells us how very happy she has been to offer a range of support to Raul. This included helping him find employment and initially meeting with his employer, who speaks about Raul’s work.

We hope this film helps illustrate some of the roles and responsibilities undertaken by guardians in Sicily. In particular, the project highlights the strong relationship guardians build with the children they have responsibility for.

Until recently guardianship of unaccompanied and separated children in Sicily was undertaken by just a few officials including local mayors and lawyers. This meant one guardian may have had responsibility for up to 100 children. The Italian Authorities realised that this ‘institutional’ guardianship was not effective.

So, a new law has been introduced in Italy – the Zampa Law. This law permits a programme in which members of the local community are now appointed as guardians. A guardian is defined as someone who maintains an independent oversight to safeguard a child’s best interests and general wellbeing. Guardians are appointed to all unaccompanied and separated children regardless of whether they are in foster care, small group homes, or other settings, such as transit and emergency shelters.

In Sicily, guardians are members of the local community who apply for the role. They go through a selection process before being appointed by the juvenile court. A guardian can only be responsible for three children at a time, thus allowing for a more personal relationship. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, guardians should live in the same community as the children. This means they can meet on a regularly basis and be easily available when a child needs them. You can read more about the Zampa law by clicking on this link to the UNICEF website.

A child is provided a guardian very soon after they arrive in Sicily. While we were filming for this course, we met potential guardians already waiting on the beach for the arrival of a migrant rescue boat. They were waiting to be assigned by the local court as soon as unaccompanied and separated children had been officially identified and left the boat. The guardian safeguards the interests of a child for as long as necessary – this might be a short or long period of time.

Guardians must ensure that:

  • Each child is kept well informed about their rights and any processes that affect them
  • Each child has all their legal, social, health, material, psychological, educational, and other needs met
  • Decisions are being made with the child’s active participation

As you will see in the video, the guardian plays an important role in a child’s life. An article on the UNICEF website explains that when

‘a voluntary guardianship works properly, and the child feels a connection with the guardian – that another human being genuinely cares – it has a powerful effect on reducing abuse, exploitation, and harm. There is anecdotal evidence from reception facilities… that children are less willing to take risky decisions of escaping these facilities, exposing them to dangerous risks, when they are assigned a guardian’.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

This article is from the free online

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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